- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

March 17

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on the costs of drug addiction:

When an award-winning movie star recently lost his battle with substance abuse and addiction, the headlines and tributes were ubiquitous, and mostly without moral judgment. He was a sick man and his tragedy became our tragedy, because we knew him through his work.

Do we have the same relationship with mostly unknown people throughout our communities, who cannot be free of the scourge of their addiction even during pregnancy? Are we as understanding and supportive of their struggles, of the consequences to the fetuses they carry and the children they bear?

We should be. For their struggles with drugs, and with children born addicted to or affected by the drugs their mothers could not stop taking even during pregnancy, are our struggles, too. If they are to get well and even have a chance at healthy, productive lives, they need medical attention and education and more. They require treatment and other help in a state that continues to be plagued by too many long-term problems and too few long-term solutions.

Courier-Journal Reporter Laura Ungar has visited the life- and resource-shredding issues of substance abuse, addiction and pregnancy several times in recent years. Her latest installment was a special report in Sunday’s C-J, which outlined the surge of hospitalizations of drug-addicted babies in Kentucky. That surge is attributed in large part to the availability and use of heroin that has filled the vacuum left by the recent crackdown on prescription pain-killers.

Ungar reported that those hospitalizations have increased 30-fold from 2000 to 2012, and that Kentucky is on track for more than 900 for last year - up from 824 in 2012. Kentucky fares badly in national statistics, with one health official saying that this state has one of the nation’s worst problems with drug-dependent babies.

“The latest national statistics come from a 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which said hospitalizations for drug-dependent babies rose 330 percent from 2000 to 2009. Kentucky’s hospitalizations rose more than 1,400 percent during that same time,” Ms. Ungar wrote.

State officials are well aware of the epidemic. The restrictions placed on prescription pain pills were an attempt to curb access to addictive drugs, but heroin has filled the gap left by them. And a recent $32 million settlement the state won with two drug companies has been a windfall for cash- and resource-strapped drug-treatment programs throughout Kentucky, including $1 million dedicated to treatment centers for pregnant addicts.

But $1 million is still not nearly enough - not for the women who struggle with addiction while pregnant, not for the people who try to care for them, not for the drug-dependent babies who are born with a variety of symptoms ranging from low weight, vomiting, inconsolability, hyperactivity, poor feeding and seizures; not for the taxpayers who cover millions in costs associated with the spike in hospitalizations.

Which is why Kentuckians ought to ramp up the same interest in the women and babies struggling with heroin and addiction in our communities as they managed to muster for a tragic movie star whose life ended with a needle hanging from his arm.

That means demanding more up-front education about drugs and their dangers to girls and boys before they start dabbling or using. That means educating their parents, or other caring adults, on the signs and symptoms of drug use in children.

That means demanding more funding for current facilities, and more drug-treatment centers for pregnant women who want help, but often can’t get it; Kentucky’s 55 such centers, most of them outpatient, are not nearly enough, either.

“Ultimately,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said, “it’s an issue that affects all of society.”

So it is. And so it does.




March 18

The Gleaner, Henderson, Ky., on the courts treatment of young illegal immigrants:

Until about three years ago, federal agents annually intercepted 8,000 unaccompanied minors entering the United States illegally. By last year, the number had jumped to nearly 26,000. This year’s projection: As many as 60,000 youngsters may attempt to cross into this country without parents or papers.

This surge of under-age humanity presents two problems.

First is understanding the forces propelling it, which experts say include narco-trafficking, Central American gang violence and abusive homes.

Parents desperate to raise their children outside the reach of powerful gangs are packing them off to the north, making the calculated gamble that the trip will be safer than staying put. Other youths are caught up in sex-trafficking or similarly exploitative or abusive situations, and they come to this country to escape.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees released a report recently spotlighting the problem and calling on the governments of the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico to work together to stem the flow; acknowledge that more than half the minors likely have internationally recognized cause to be granted refugee status based on the risks they face at home; and adopt procedures to identify those with legitimate claims for asylum or refugee status. Regrettably, the report did not offer suggestions on what the nations should do to address the root causes.

It’s sensible to seek a regional approach to a humanitarian issue that is beyond the power of a single government to control.

A joint effort holds greater potential to address the causes of this migration trend, and the affected governments should work together to find a solution before it becomes a migration crisis.

The second problem the U.S. faces is what to do with the youngsters once they get here.

Unlike people charged with criminal offenses, those detained on immigration violations do not have the right to a court-appointed attorney during deportation proceedings, so if the detained person can’t afford a lawyer, he or she often faces the judge alone.

There are real consequences: A 2007 Georgetown University Law Center study found that people represented by lawyers were three times more likely to win protection.

The issue is compounded when the defendant is a child. Children barely of school age have been compelled to argue alone in immigration court why they should be allowed to stay.

Often, the children can’t even understand the language, let alone the process, which means there is a very real chance that minors who qualify for asylum or other protections are being booted out of the country without a fair hearing.

This is wrong. There are reasons for and against providing indigent adults with legal help as they seek permission to remain in the country, a debate we won’t join here. How unaccompanied children are processed within the U.S. immigration system is a different issue that needs addressing out of fairness, if not a sense of humanity.

The federal government should develop a system under which unaccompanied minors have access to a lawyer or experienced advocate (as happens in child-welfare court proceedings) to defend their interests. A number of nonprofit organizations, such as Kids in Need of Defense, have been training and coordinating pro bono lawyers to help children.

While the number of available lawyers falls far below the need, that pro bono system could offer a framework for the government to build on - much like a targeted public defender system - to ensure that all detained unaccompanied minors have someone in their corner during deportation proceedings.




March 14

The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown, Ky., on bill tries to give Rand a hand:

When it comes to politics, basic words can take on new meanings.

For example, many are referring to Rand Paul as the front-runner in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. After he again won a straw poll at the recent conservative caucus event in Washington, Paul described the front-runner designation as meaning “unlucky.”

Running ahead of the pack surely will attract more attacks once he formally announces. The leader quickly becomes the target - another redefinition.

In the meantime in Frankfort, state Sen. Damon Thayer wants to change Kentucky law to ensure that Paul’s likely presidential bid does not interfere with him also running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Thayer uses the word “clarify” to describe his tinkering.

Senate Bill 205 would allow any Kentuckian seeking a federal office to also appear on the same ballot in pursuit of another position. A committee substitute with revised language cleared its first hurdle Wednesday, passing a Senate committee.

Despite that progress, the bill seems destined for oblivion. Even if it passes in the state Senate where Thayer serves as majority leader, passage in the Democratic-controlled House is another story.

The bill was written with Paul and his political aspirations in mind. Any special circumstance adjustment to election laws almost always reeks of politics and should give all legislators reason to hesitate.

These special purpose favors often have unintended consequences.

This clarification - to borrow Thayer’s spin word - is designed to remove any question as to whether Paul’s name could appear twice on primary ballots in 2016.

As one of Paul’s senior advisers notes, it likely is unnecessary since the federal government determines what is allowed in national elections.

“Federal law governs federal elections and the Supreme Court has made it clear that states cannot impose additional qualifications beyond those in the Constitution,” Doug Stafford said. “We are not seeking to change the law, but rather to clarify that the Kentucky statute does not apply to federal elections. We thank Sen. Thayer for taking this step in clarifying this issue.”

What the bill will accomplish is allow Sen. Paul a chance to determine who among the Republican Party’s elected leaders is willing to look beyond his tea party ties and attach their fortunes to his rising star.

One notable flushed out by this bill was Kentucky’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell. Locked in a troublesome re-election bid this year, McConnell and some of his supporters took time to call state legislators on behalf of the bill and Paul.

Maybe he’s looking to borrow some of Paul’s momentum.

Paul and his aides say he’s committed to the Senate run. Although he has an officially sanctioned website, www.randpaul2016.com, and Facebook presence, no one publicly will say he is running for president.

Of course if he’s not running for two positions, Thayer’s bill could be redefined as totally unnecessary.

Just goes to show that the more you clarify in politics, the more cloudy the facts become.





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